Contrary to Report, Women Are Safer from Sexual Assault at VMI

Kasey Meredith became VMI’s first Cadet Commander this year. Photo credit: AP

by James A. Bacon

Not only is the Virginia Military Institute a cauldron of racism, according to the recently published Barnes & Thornburg report, it is a bastion of sexism. As the executive summary puts it: “On gender, many respondents — including men — stated that VMI’s gender-equity issues are worse than its racial-equity issues.”

As evidence of the culture of sexism, the report cites from a survey in which 81 female cadets participated. Fourteen percent of those who responded reported having been sexually assaulted. Concludes the executive summary: “Sexual assault is prevalent at VMI yet it is inadequately addressed by the Institute.”

Here’s what Barnes & Thornburg never mentioned: According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women are “sexually assaulted” while attending college nationally. According to the 2019 AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct, 25.9% of women undergraduates are subject to “nonconsensual sexual contact by force or inability to consent.”

In other words, using Barnes & Thornburg’s own metric, women are significantly safer at VMI than other four-year colleges.

Why would Barnes & Thornburg not provide that statistical context unless it had an ideological agenda?

“Sexual assault is a problem at VMI,” opines the report. Investigators dug into the issue but “many women chose not to share their experiences.” The Team heard from “numerous” cadets, alumni and family members who did not wish to participate “out of fear of VMI and its alumni.” It’s also possible that the women who did participate in the survey and interviews did so — a possibility that appears not to have occurred to the authors of the report.

Eighty-three percent of VMI female cadets reported having never been “sexually assaulted,” a term that can range from violent rape to an unwanted pat on the butt.

Be that as it may, the executive summary asserts that “sexual assault was a common topic in interviews of female cadets and alumni.”

There are three points worth making here. First, the definition of “sexual assault” can range from an unwelcome pat on the butt to rape. Use of the term “assault” is loaded because it implies violence even though most “assaults” involve no violence at all.

Second, the report repeats a lot of unverified allegations based on hearsay. An example: One interviewee “told her cousin not to come to VMI because she is terrified her cousin would be raped since it happens so often.” Really? Are we to believe that rape is so prevalent that a women tells her cousin not to come…. yet the woman herself chooses to remain at VMI? How much credibility does any reasonable person give a statement like that?

Third, the so-called “investigators” made no effort to ascertain the veracity of the allegations. Allegations and perceptions exist, and even if they reflect the views of a minority of women, the report gives them more weight than the experiences and perceptions of the majority.

My point is not that rape and unwanted sexual touching never happens. Of course it does. Such behavior occurs far too often in all college campuses and, indeed, outside of college. Sexual misbehavior is a society-wide problem. That’s why we have laws, protocols and social mores to stifle it. My problem is the implication that VMI creates a toxic culture of sexism where this behavior is more prevalent than elsewhere. The opposite is true. Misbehavior is likely less prevalent.

One passage in the report tells us a lot about why sexual misbehavior may be less widespread at VMI — although the investigators were too dim (or too blinkered in their thinking) to pick up on it.

[A] current female cadet reported that another female cadet was recently raped on post, and that she and her friends were still trying to decide what to do about it — they are not sure whether the friend should report it since the friend was drunk at the time and therefore might get in trouble herself. She said that alcohol use is a serious violation and that this creates a barrier to reporting assaults that involved alcohol.

The alleged rape probably did not involve physical coercion. If it had, the cadets would have mentioned that highly relevant fact. Most likely, it was a case in which both the man and women engaged in drunken sex. The incident bears the hallmarks of incidents on other campuses in which the woman regrets having sex, claims she was too drunk to have given her consent, and on that basis asserts that she was raped.

We don’t know the details of this case, so we can draw no conclusive judgment. Here’s what’s relevant to the bigger picture. Barnes & Thornburg presents VMI’s strict no-alcohol policy as a problem — a “barrier” to reporting rape — while, in fact, it can be argued, the prohibition of alcohol on Post significantly reduces unwanted touching, assault, drunken couplings, regret sex and reported rape.

The fact that B&T report never addresses VMI’s alcohol ban as a positive in regard to sexual assault is a sign of how extraordinarily biased it is.

Clearly, unacceptable behavior does occur, even given the prohibition of alcohol. For instance, the report cites an allegation that staff member repeatedly walked into women’s rooms when the shades were down, a sign that women were changing clothes. Men commenting anonymously on the social media Jodel make degrading remarks about women. VMI holds assault-related training sessions and some cadets childishly blow them off as a joke. But the report provides zero evidence that the incidence of adolescent behavior is any more prevalent at VMI than anywhere else.

My final observation. In the report we read this: In the 2010-2013 time frame, a female graduate opined that male alumni perpetuate sexism. As evidence she cited the wearing of t-shirts that said, “Save the Males.”

Is that evidence of sexism or a feminist’s humorlessness? If that’s the kind of evidence Barnes & Thornburg marshals to bolster its case of a culture of sexism at VMI, what does that tell us about the report?

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42 responses to “Contrary to Report, Women Are Safer from Sexual Assault at VMI”

  1. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Make sure you are not comparing reported to total. Often the statistics cite total cases based on extrapolation to include unreported too.

  2. William O'Keefe Avatar
    William O’Keefe

    There is an old saying in the world of analysis that if the facts don’t fit the narrative, get rid of the facts. B&T practice that well.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      So what percent of VMI cadets actually get brought in front of the honor council for alleged offenses related to sexual conduct? It surely is a factual number, right?

      1. Larry – The honor court deals with honor violations only. Misconduct is adjudicated by the chain of command and the school leadership. Therefore, the honor court wouldn’t know those numbers.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          okay. So compare and contrast honor violations with misconduct.

          I obviously don’t understand it enough so educate me.

          1. Keydet Avatar

            Is the charge lying, cheating, stealing or toleration of lying, cheating, or stealing? If yes, the Honor Court adjudicates. If the charge is anything else, ranging from a grossly disordered room to yes, sexual assault/rape, it’s handled by the administration.

            Here’s a tangential discussion: I don’t think schools should be in the business of adjudicating serious crimes like sexual assault. But what do you do with a defendant? He’s innocent until proven guilty, so can you kick him out prior to conviction? And even if acquitted, the burden of proof in a criminal trial is high, so he could have actually done it. If he stays, you’re telling the victim that she can either deal with the fact that the assailant is still there or leave herself.

            On the other hand, if he’s innocent and you kick him out for the allegation that’s an injustice itself.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            re: ” I don’t think schools should be in the business of adjudicating serious crimes like sexual assault.”

            I mostly agree. The schools are creating parallel legal systems and there are no real standards so they can vary by school and we’ve already seen mistakes in process.

            OTOH – we see corporations and other institutions (like churches and NGOs) with their standards – where sanctions can and are brought by the company against the employee.

          3. That is obvious. Like the national military academies and even UVA, they have an honor code, “A Cadet will not Lie, Cheat, or Steal or tolerate those that do.

            If a cadet assaults another cadet he is dealt with under the disciplinary system. The results can range from administrative punishment like Penalty Tours or restriction to suspension and expulsion.

            If he lies during that process, and it is discovered, he is also subjected to the honor system that has several layers of due process to go through before it ever goes before the full honor court. All of this is overseen by military officers and lawyers to protect everyone’s rights and to ensure a fair outcome.

            Thus ends today’s lesson.

          4. LarrytheG Avatar

            Thank you. So who looks at the offense and determines if it’s an Honor Code violation or an Administrative violation?

            Does the Honor Council have the authority to expel or is it a recommendation to the administration? Is the limits of the Honor Council recommendations or can they enforce sanctions without referring to the Administration?

            What I’m thinking of is an accusation of which the substance of is disputed.

            where does that go in the process?

            i.e. – initially – someone is accused of lying – about – something beyond the honor council’s authority.

            I note that right now – in the military – they are considering taking away a Commanders authority on certain kinds of cases and referring automatically to the legal arm of the services.

          5. I don’t think that you understand the military very well Larry. The legal branch of each of the services works for a military Commander. When a service member is found guilty in a court martial, the Commander that called for the court martial gets the final decision. IMHO it works pretty well that way, but it can be abused. Civilian oversight is probably a good thing, but the details are tricky.

            Understanding that, the honor court makes their decision and it is up to the VMI administration to execute that recommendation or do something else. It is ultimately the Superintendent’s decision. He is the commander and the buck stops on his desk.

            Anyway, in my study of both military Justice and civilian justice systems, the military has way more ways to appeal and get the record set straight in a miscarriage of justice. It is unfortunate that the few mistakes in the military are blown out of proportion as compared to similar cases in the civilian world.

          6. LarrytheG Avatar

            Thanks. I was curious – have you been following what Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and others are proposing to do in terms of how the military deals with sexual assault cases?

            ” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has won broad backing for legislation that would cut out the military chain of command in such cases.”


            She may not succeed, there is still opposition but she has a fair number in favor of taking away from the Military chain of command – sexual assault cases because many are dismissed.

            Have you followed this?

          7. Yes, I am following this. Thus my comment on it being tricky.

            If you take the commander out of the equation, you cut into his ability to maintain good order and discipline. That is why I used the term civilian oversight, not taking it out of the commander’s control, but he knows that it will be reviewed by somebody in congress or other body may help prevent abuse.

            That said. There is rarely abuse once a charge is made at the level where legal action begins. The abuse tend to happen at the lower levels where it is swept under the rug by junior officers and NCOs.

            I lived it and now my children are living it. It is a good system. You just have to work it and make sure you get rid of the bad guys before you have to put America’s youth into harms way.

          8. LarrytheG Avatar

            Thanks. I see this:

            ” Gillibrand said it’s important to note that the legislation will not bring civilian oversight into such cases, but rather, replace commanders who often don’t have a great deal of legal training with prosecutors who do.

            “We’re trying to professionalize how these cases are handled,” Gillibrand said. “We are creating a state-of-the-art DA’s office within the military to handle all serious crimes.”

            The Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act would also move other crimes — such as murder, manslaughter, child endangerment, child pornography and negligent homicide — under this new system. Meanwhile, misdemeanors and military crimes would stay under the chain of command. ”

            I suspect the devil is in the details.

            But it sorta sounds like what the Colleges and VMI should do also – i.e. let the legal system take it.

          9. RevZafod Avatar

            Larry, after you graduate from VMI, spend a few years in the army including at least one in a combat zone, and as an officer charges with justice under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and you’ll understand the military a lot better

          10. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Given that the Chairman of the JCoS just announced last month that they are unable to solve the military’ 1 in 3 women being sexually assaulted, the UCMJ ain’t working.

          11. Glad you can make up statistics to fit your pov. Grow up and make a defensible argument rather than making up stats to create controversy then we might take your comments seriously.

          12. LarrytheG Avatar

            Nice try but “understanding” how the UCMJ “works” is not the same as understanding why (and wanting to address) too many sexual assaults in the military that occur without justice being rendered to the victims. Thus, as provided by our Constitution, civilians get involved to address the issue the military cannot or will not.

            Similar to what VMI chose to not address and then had external intervention.

            So here we are decades, more than a century later STILL dealing with race and sex in the military – DESPITE the UCMJ. Time to deal with it.

          13. Matt Adams Avatar
            Matt Adams

            “I note that right now – in the military – they are considering taking away a Commanders authority on certain kinds of cases and referring automatically to the legal arm of the services.”

            A Commander will always have the right to issue an Article-15. Just like any individual is able to request a trial by courts martial, summary, special or general varying on the offense.

          14. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Apparently, they do.

          15. RevZafod Avatar

            For a full education on it, just matriculate at VMI – I’m VMI Class of ’62

  3. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    One thing this means… there are VMI cadets in for a rude awakening when they enter a military with sexual assaults occurring to 1 in 3.

  4. John Harvie Avatar
    John Harvie

    Jim is right in that the term “assault” is loaded and implies the worst.

    I guess it didn’t suit the narrative to ask also who were “outraged” … one of the favorite meme words in today’s vernacular. Much too mild, I guess.

  5. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “The incident bears the hallmarks of incidents on other campuses in which the woman regrets having sex, claims she was too drunk to have given her consent, and on that basis asserts that she was raped.”

    Come on, JAB! You can’t actually think this is the true norm do you?! First, if a woman regrets having sex when drunk, the typical response is really not to claim she was raped and then go through the crap she has to go through after reporting. Her response (whether consensual or not) is almost always to pretend like it didn’t happen and hope it goes away.

    If a woman claims she was raped when drunk (or drugged) she normally was actually raped. Roofies are hardly a new thing, you know. They are very common.

    1. tmtfairfax Avatar

      But don’t forget, it all depends on who the guy is. Hillary Clinton said all women should be believed except when they accuse Bill. In that event, the woman is trailer trash. That explains in large part why the Donald beat Hillary.

      Sexual assault is serious offense that should only be handled by the criminal justice system. Both parties must have their rights protected.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        “For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that the President’s and Ferguson’s motions for summary judgment should both be and hereby are granted. There being no remaining issues, the Court will enter judgment dismissing this case.”

        Oh well…

    2. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Wow! No wonder all these new GOP abortion laws are removing the rape and incest exceptions — it’s how Republicans procreate.

      Ref. Todd Akin, “legitimate rape”

      I cannot believe an enlightened and educated journalist could utter, let alone believe such rubbish…

      “Honestly, Your Honor, I wouldn’t really have minded, but EVERY time we went on a date, it was rape, rape, rape…”

      1. Matt Adams Avatar
        Matt Adams

        Your link is without citation for it’s data, it’s meaningless like all of your posts.

    3. Matt Adams Avatar
      Matt Adams

      Citation required, I’ll wait.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” Use of the term “assault” is loaded because it implies violence even though most “assaults” involve no violence at all.”

    hmm… what to think of that ….. maybe not good especially to who it happened to.

    And yes , agree with NN – make sure you’re doing apples to apples instead of comparing things that are really not the same.

    Finally – VMI is not just any College. It’s supposed to be training leaders.. way more than just regular college… They talk about “zero tolerance” with their Honor System – is it really?

    So, here’s a question. How many cadets actually get expelled or disciplined for inappropriate sexual behavior? 15% ?

    1. WayneS Avatar

      Why would it be 15%?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        14% – ” Fourteen percent of those who responded reported having been sexually assaulted.”

        1. WayneS Avatar

          Okay, but that does not not mean 15% (or 14%) of cadets should be expelled or disciplined for inappropriate sexual behavior. The fact (assuming it is a fact) that 14% of female cadets have been sexually assaulted, does not mean 14% of the overall cadet population is guilty of sexual assault.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            Okay, you got me on that one. so the total enrollment of VMI is what – maybe 1700 and 239 females… 14% = 33. ballpark?

            2% ? better check me…

            yeah that was truly bad math… on my part!

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      UVa has a zero tolerance policy for honor code violations too. One “conviction” by the Honor Committee and you are gone forever.

    3. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      These numbers of 1 in 7 sexually assaulted, compared to 1 in 3 for the military itself, only shows that the men at VMI aren’t holding up the ideals of their chosen profession.

      “Train like you fight” and ladies, fight like you’ll be raped.

  7. keydet16 Avatar

    The report also stated that a federal title ix investigation may be warranted…

  8. DJRippert Avatar

    Just more Northam-based dishonesty. On Oct 20, 2020 Northam declared that there is a “clear and appalling environment of structural racism” at VMI. Then he commissions a law firm to document the veracity of his statement. Unfortunately for Northam, the law firm can’t corroborate his statement. In fact, the law firm finds no clear violation of Title VI at VMI. One would certainly expect to find Title VI violations at a college or university with a “clear and appalling environment of structural racism”.

    Does Northam apologize to the students, faculty and alumni for his demonstrably wrong statement of Oct 20? Of course not. Persistent liars don’t apologize for anything. They tell more lies to cover up. Thus, the ridiculous executive summary from the B&T report … written in the hope that nobody will read the details.

    Any level of sexual misconduct is too much sexual misconduct. But, unfortunately, sexual misconduct seems to be all too present on college campuses. How did VMI fare? In order to support Nonsense Northam’s unfounded rage against VMI the B&T crew couldn’t be bothered to put the 14% in context. Instead, they characterize the level of sexual misconduct to be worse than the supposed appalling racism. Why didn’t they put the matter into context? Because they felt compelled to support Northam’s lies.

    The next time Nonsense Northam makes utterly unfounded claims somebody should tell him to preface the claim with …

    “I suspect that …”
    “There is some reason to believe that …”
    “I am concerned that …”

    As in, “I suspect that there is a clear an appalling environment of racism at VMI”.

    Elect a liar, get lies.

    1. tmtfairfax Avatar

      I believe the great Italian poet Dante has a fine place for Northam. And it has to be in the 8th or 9th ring.

      Look at it this way. No matter how crappy your relatives are, be thankful your not Northam’s sibling.

  9. Donald Crawford Avatar
    Donald Crawford

    “Save the males” … just a bit of adolescent futile hopefulness much like the “Mary & William” shirts late in the last millennium worn by the ladies at that historic Virginia college in Williamsburg.

  10. TooTallUK Avatar

    “The alleged rape probably did not involve physical coercion. If it
    had, the cadets would have mentioned that highly relevant fact. Most
    likely, it was a case in which both the man and women engaged in drunken
    sex. The incident bears the hallmarks of incidents on other campuses in
    which the woman regrets having sex, claims she was too drunk to have
    given her consent, and on that basis asserts that she was raped.”

    “We don’t know the details of this case, so we can draw no conclusive judgment.”

    All that ‘probable’ is about as victim blaming as you can get. Abhorrent.

  11. Alex Church Avatar
    Alex Church

    “Hey sometimes assault is just a pat on the bum (just locker room fun!) and we don’t even know how many of these women are lying!”

    Is there no rock bottom for how low you’ll go, porkbelly?

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